Gardening in Dry Times: Strategies to Overcome Water Restrictions
Water is the lifeblood of any garden. But what happens when drought hits and water restrictions are imposed? Down here in Central Texas we are in the middle of an extraordinary drought which has most of us unable to water much. While this scenario can be a daunting challenge for gardeners, it's not an insurmountable one. With innovative techniques, careful planning, and a dash of old fashioned resilience, it's possible to maintain a flourishing garden even under strict water constraints. Here's how:
1. Know Your Restrictions:
First and foremost, be fully aware of the specifics of the water restrictions in your area. Restrictions can range from limiting watering to specific days and times, to banning the use of hosepipes and sprinklers, to complete water bans in extreme cases. This is NOT a recommendation to bypass or ignore local restrictions. Water conservation in these times is crucial and the restrictions are imposed with good reason.
2. Prioritize Plants:
If water is extremely limited, decide which plants are the most valuable or irreplaceable in your garden. Prioritize watering young plants, vegetables, and trees over lawns or annuals.
3. Go Native:
Native plants have evolved over millennia to thrive in their local conditions. They are usually well-adapted to periods of drought and require much less water than non-native plants. Research local species and make them the cornerstone of your drought-resistant garden.
4. Improve Your Soil:
Healthy soil retains water better. Mix in organic matter like compost, Organic REV or well-rotted manure to boost its water-holding capacity. This not only conserves moisture but also provides plants with essential nutrients.
5. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch:
Mulch is a gardener's best ally in times of drought. A 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch, such as straw, wood chips, or dried grass clippings, can reduce evaporation from the soil surface, suppress weeds that compete for water, and regulate soil temperature.
6. Efficient Watering Techniques:
- Drip Irrigation: This delivers water directly to the base of plants, ensuring minimal wastage.
- Soaker Hoses: These allow water to seep out along their length, ensuring targeted watering.
- Watering Cans: While labor-intensive, they can be used to deliver water precisely where it's needed. In our particular area, watering cans are that are allowed so we have become quite skilled at keeping our small garden going with just a can.
Remember, watering deeply and less frequently encourages roots to grow downwards, seeking moisture from deeper in the soil.
7. Collect and Store Rainwater:
Install rain barrels or larger cisterns to collect rainwater from roof runoff. While some water restrictions may regulate the use of rainwater, it's generally a more accepted source during droughts. As a bonus, rainwater has no hardness and is sodium free with a neutral pH.
8. Reduce Evaporation:
Water early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler, and evaporation rates are lower.
9. Consider Lawn Alternatives:
Lawns can be water guzzlers. Consider replacing or reducing your lawn with drought-tolerant ground covers, native grasses, or even hardscaping.
10. Group Plants by Water Needs:
Design or rearrange your garden so that plants with similar water requirements are grouped together. This "hydrozoning" reduces water waste and ensures that each plant receives the right amount of moisture. This is admittedly tough to do mid-season but if you live in areas where drought is common you should plan for the worst as you lay out your garden.
11. Check for Leaks:
A small leak in your watering system can result in a significant waste of water over time. Regularly inspect hoses, connectors, and faucets to ensure they're in good working order.
12. Reduce Fertilizer Use:
Excessive fertilizer can increase a plant's need for water. If possible, reduce the amount you use or switch to slow-release or organic fertilizers that won't push plants to put on a lot of lush, water-hungry growth. Eco-Organic is a great low-nitrogen option that is fully sustainable (made from grocery store waste) and full of amino acids and micronutrients.
Drought conditions and water restrictions demand creativity and adaptability from gardeners. While it's a challenge, it's also an opportunity to learn, innovate, and grow as a gardener. With these strategies in hand, your garden can not only survive but thrive, even when water is scarce. Happy drought-resilient gardening!